Why Microsoft is not getting serious with desktop virtualization in Windows 8

Ever since Microsoft released a bunch of details about Windows 8 at their BUILD 2011 conference a few weeks ago, I've been getting questions like, "Is it true that Microsoft is finally getting serious about desktop virtualization with Windows 8?" or "Will Windows 8 go after Citrix for desktop virtualization?

Ever since Microsoft released a bunch of details about Windows 8 at their BUILD 2011 conference a few weeks ago, I've been getting questions like, "Is it true that Microsoft is finally getting serious about desktop virtualization with Windows 8?" or "Will Windows 8 go after Citrix for desktop virtualization?"

The answer is "no." Here are a bunch of reasons why not:

Windows 8's "desktop virtualization" support is really just the addition of a client hypervisor, not some "real" effort

The confusion stems from the fact that the terms "virtual desktops" and "desktop virtualization" mean different things to  different people. So when we see articles like CRN's "Windows 8 to Support Desktop Virtualization" or CTOEdge's "Windows 8 and New Desktop Virtualization Realities." it's easy to see how people might misconstrue that to mean that Microsoft is somehow extending Windows 8 to compete against Citrix XenDesktop or VMware View. But in reality, both articles (and others like them) are really just talking about Windows 8 having an option for a client hypervisor built-in, which is nice, but not a game changing desktop virtualization push from Microsoft. (More details and a discussion about the Windows 8 client hypervisor can be found in Gabe's article from last week.)

Microsoft doesn't know their ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to desktop virtualization

Have you seen Microsoft's VDI, err, Remote Desktop Virtualization Host offerings? Spend ten minutes playing with that and you'll see why Microsoft is quick to shove as many customers to Citrix XenDesktop or Quest vWorkspace as possible.

We've spent probably 50k words on this website writing about the future of the desktop, Microsoft's role, etc., so I don't have to repeat too much. But let me just say that Microsoft hasn't exactly been the "enlightened leader" when it comes to desktop virtualization. Hell, you could argue that they're doing everything they can to *prevent* desktop virtualization from catching on. (VECD, App-V in SA, licensing by device instead of user, no layering built-in to windows, old school profiles still in Win8…)

Let's be real. What are the chances that Microsoft is going to (a) suddenly decide to focus on desktop virtualization in Win8, and (b) have that hastily-decided focus be the right focus, and (c) actually be able to execute on that? I think there's a better chance that a satellite falls on my head this weekend.

Microsoft is a big ship with a tiny rudder

Let's go back to that imagined scenario where Microsoft does suddenly become enlightened about desktop virtualization. Even if they had a great strategy today, what's their launch vehicle for that? Windows 8? What's that...at least a year away? Even if that's true, don't you think CitrixVMwareQuestVirtualBridges will have a new version or two by then? Microsoft doesn't exactly have a good track record in the "oh sh*t we're really far behind so let's throw a lot of resources at the problem to win" department. The path for Windows 8 is paved with tablets, not virtual desktops.

Windows 8 for tablets will change the game

Oh wait, no it won't. Sure, it will have a great UI. Metro is cool, etc. The problem is that in the "Post PC" world, the IT-supported Windows platform apps are going to be the old shitty ones that we can't rewrite for the cloud/SaaS/HTML5/iOS/Android/RIA. And do you think those old shitty apps are going to magically get a Metro UI? (This is a great opp for a software vendor btw.. kind of like Citrix Project Vertigo for the 21st century.)

And don't be fooled by promises of "Metro Style Remote Desktop App." That just means that you'll be able to launch a remote desktop session via a Metro RDC client with your multiple greasy fingers and no keyboard. But what happens when you actually connect to that remote desktop and you find that you have fat fingers and no keyboard? Pan and zoom baby!! Pan and zoom… (Oh yeah, sure, if your remote Windows desktop is running Metro and you have a Metro app running on it, then RemoteFX and RDP will also be able to remote multitouch. But what's the use case for that really? It seems that if someone took the time to rewrite their Windows app for Metro, then wouldn't you just compile it for ARM and run it on your tablet locally? Or better yet, since you're rewriting the thing, just rewrite it for an app platform you don't have to remote, like something that works with any HTML5 browser.)

BTW, keep in mind that no matter how serious Microsoft gets about Windows 8 for ARM for tablets, remember that you won't be able to run x86 Windows apps on Win8 for ARM. So really Win8 with Metro and/or ARM is only "Windows" in the sense that it will be easy-ish for current Windows developers to write for it. It's not "Windows" in the sense of "let's make all our old Windows crap work."

Windows 8 will f*ck up our Windows 7 migration plans

Ok, this isn't technically a statement about Windows 8's desktop virtualization capabilities, but it's something to think about. If Windows 8 really does come out in 2012, that's still more than a year before XP support expires, so maybe some of us can wait and just jump from XP to 8?

The good news is that in terms of core architecture, Windows 7 and Windows 8 are very similar. You can still run Windows 8 on x86. If you have a keyboard and mouse then you don't have to run Metro. And it seems that the jump from 7 to 8 will be more like an "in place upgrade" as opposed to an actual migration. So at this point I'm cool with everyone going to Windows 7 for everything, and when Windows 8 comes out, we'll all go there. But when it comes to desktop virtualization, we're going to use Windows 8 in the same way we're using Windows 7. Nothing new here.

Join the conversation


Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

Ignoring the direct VDI impact of windows 8 and just looking at the enterprise desktop for a moment.

Look at the windows 8 build demo, it was all focused around the end user consumer, flashy icons, flippy windows, silly games and a bad twitter app. All "user teasing" fluff with little content.

Which enterprise in their right mind would roll that MetroUI out to their enterprise desktops / non touch laptops on release? Nobody, that's who. There needs to be a big red "turn off the crap" button in group policy for enterprises.

Windows 7 had its enterprise shortfalls, Windows libraries, shared local folders, server hosted indexing services etc and windows 8 sadly looks to follow suit.

The root issue here is they're trying to satisfy both user groups with one generic UI / look and feel, and neither is completely satisfied with the result.


Windows 8 for tablets will change the game:

I truely believe it will - because it will be much more convenient to integrate these devices into enterprises. Managers will not need to have a tablet and a notebook device but will use the metro look and feel for the quick stuff and for "real" working they will use blue tooth keyboard and mouse with old fassion GUI. YES - the standard office apps are not build for touch - but I could not imagine how end users will love Citrix Receiver on the IPad because the standard microsoft apps are just not build for touch. So I belive that very quick some core function applications will be available for metro to do most standard stuff like PIM stuff. If you want to work more granular you just switch to the good old keyboard and mouse

About Win7 Migration:

I just had a customer that was already on Vista - yes Vista - but their design was so modular that with in a very short time we integrated Windows 7. Because not the OS is the problem in a migration but the application. But applications that run on Vista normally run also on Win7 - so the change for them will be more or less a piece of cake. Right now I assume that the same will happen with Windows8. I assume it will be fast implemented for a small number of VIP users - giving less headache than managing tablets in the enterprise from other vendors.


I think the merging of a traditional PC operating system with a tablet style interface and native "mobile" type acts is a pretty big deal actually.

The point above about not having to own and maintain tablet devices in addition to laptop PC's is very important. My prediction is that WIn8 won't win the consumer device market per se, but it might just be the perfect platform for Enterprises to be able to own and manage laptops and tablets in a single form factor using their existing desktop managment tools


There's a chance that MS is actually going to do something radical here.  Looking at the high-level architecture diagram published last week, it sure seems like we're moving to a true 3-tier MVC implementation for the OS.   The top layer is HTML5 and XAML, and although it's not "pure" yet (C/C++/C# etc. still bleed through to the presentation layer), it's close enough to a layered approach that it can't be an accident.

If that is the case, this may be the beginning of the end for all current forms of VDI.  If the presentation layer can truly be remote from the rest of the OS, it's a whole new ball game.

Anyone who was there have any insight into this?  It's so radical I can't believe MS could embrace it.  But the slide is right there for anyone to see...


(Lots of good talk about whether that slide is accurate at the parent post to that slide:  www.zdnet.com/.../10736)


Even if MS do go "radical" (there's a first time for everything) it doesn't change the fact that for many organisations some of the key apps in use aren't going to be re-written in HTML5 or whatever anytime soon.

We have loads of applications that are written by relatively specialist and hence small sofware suppliers who are still struggling with VB.  Change tends to bypass rather than evolve, leaving the old developers in a quiet backwater, but carrying on as before.  Eventually their apps will be replaced or abandoned, but not for quite some time.  The sheer scale of work required to re-engineer a whole portfolio of systems means we are talking 5 to 10 years.

Possibly longer, as I can remember thinking that web based apps would replace all the client/server stuff about ten years ago, and what do you know, it still hasn't happened.

The big point is that MS are in it for themselves, so whatever makes them the biggest profit is what they do.  If they think VDI is a danger, they will scupper it.  If they go for HTML5 etc, then they are opening themselves to serious competition, so...

Personally I think the Win8 tablet/PC thing is too much like a cross between a racehorse and a Ox.  In the end, nobody will be happy, except the butcher.


I think Microsoft's answer to the tablet may just be what they need.  The biggest issue with all of the buzz on alternative platform - iPad, Android, etc.  -is the fact that unless the applications are rewitten to the form factor, it's all pretty useless.  Using a Windows desktop or Office application on an Ipad over Receiver is cool at first, and then painful.

Microsoft owns the current application market, and if they can provide a way for the industry to easily port the application to  MetroUI, they may find themselves holding onto the dominance.

As for desktop virtualization in Windows 8 and Microsoft's strategy, there's a big difference between money and market.  Microsoft wins regardless of whether they built the solution or Citrix/Quest/etc. builds on their solution.  Furthermore, the number one reason (my opinion, of course) that Microsoft HASN'T just purchased Citrix is that there is an entire partner ecosystem out there that would suffer from such a move.  Microsoft can't be an ISV's partner and then turn around and directly compete.

Finally, even in the mobile market, Microsoft is making $$ today, without having to directly be the interface to the consumer.  Look at all the patent deals Microsoft is making with hardware and software manufacturers.  They just signed a patent deal with Samsung this AM that earns them $15 per handset sold, regardless of platform.  It's smart business.  

So does Microsoft really care about VDI?  Aboslutely.  Do they care if they are the sole point solution?  Not at all.  They never have, at least not in this particular vertical.  They always win.  Keeping the applications market is key to their longevity, and MetroUI in Windows 8 may be just the ticket.

Only time will tell.


Brian, this article is really good news for Microsoft. According to Brian's law, VDI with Windows 8 will be a block buster. Remember when you predicted that Windows 7 will be the VDI champion? Remember our VDI versus TS debate in Las Vegas? And now finally you say "Nah, Windows is not gonna make it in the VDI world".

If there is one lessen that we've learned over the last years it's the one that enterprise users and consumers decide what's successful and what's not. We geeks are only a minority and not relevant in terms of commercial market success. We can only help to fulfill user demands with our expertise. Guess what it would mean if people liked the MetroUI? And always keep in mind that as long as only one relevant Windows app exists, Windows will stay relevant. Legacy rocks!

Just teasing...



I wouldn't be startled to see a EULA + licencing change with Windows8 that makes it play nice (or at least, nicer) with existing first and third party VDI platforms.

While the incrimental improvements to profile and application abstraction over W7 are all welcome (User Profile disks etc), Microsoft could very easily drive upgrades to W8 just by making the licenceing more transparant and cost effective versus W7... Doing away with some pointless SKU's and removing the artificial reins on serviced VDI deployments for a start would be nice!

With Hyper-V "coming of age" a bit in terms of key features, elegence of deployment and management tools there is small but mounting pressure for Microsoft to start embracing the reality that VDI in some form will become more prevelent over the lifespan of W8 + W8 Server - now that its own OS is a more competetve hypervisor, they might be much more keen to position W8 as a true VDI friendly OS.

Regards low price RemoteFX zero client type endpoints, I've said it before but these could be key to driving corporate uptake... corporates want affordable, reliable, flexible endpoints with a long refresh cycle - added security and lower power bills are a sweetener. I've spoken at length to all the Microsoft partners who have such devices in the wings, and they have ALL now delayed until Q1-Q2 to release - I can only assume that this is to con-encide with the announcement of friendlier licencing options for Microsoft Powered, W8 based VDI and integrated Hyper-V 3 Performence improvements to RemoteFX.